Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 247–258 | Cite as

Family Functioning and Predictors of Runaway Behavior Among At-Risk Youth

  • Stephanie Brooks Holliday
  • Maria Orlando Edelen
  • Joan S. Tucker


Adolescent runaway behavior is associated with a host of negative outcomes in young adulthood. Therefore, it is important to understand the factors that predict running away in youth. Longitudinal data from 111 at-risk families were used to identify proximal predictors of runaway behavior over a 12-week period. On average, youth were 14.96 years old, and 45 % were female. Ten percent of youth ran away during the 12-week follow-up period. In bivariate analyses, running away was predicted by poorer youth- and parent-rated family functioning, past runaway behavior, and other problem behaviors (e.g., substance use, delinquency), but not poorer perceived academic functioning. Results of a hierarchical logistic regression revealed a relationship between youth-rated family functioning and runaway behavior. However, this effect became non-significant after accounting for past runaway behavior and other problem behaviors, both of which remained significant predictors in the multivariable model. These findings suggest that youth who run away may be engaged in a more pervasive pattern of problematic behavior, and that screening and prevention programs need to address the cycle of adolescent defiant behavior associated with running away. Recommendations for clinical practice with this at-risk population are discussed.


Runaway Family relationships Delinquency Adolescent 



Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under award number R34DA031910. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. The funding source had no role in the study design; collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; writing of the report; or decision to submit the article for publication.


Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under award number R34DA031910.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest to report.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all parents who participated in this study and assent was obtained from all youth participants included in the study.


  1. Achenbach, T. M. (1991). Manual for the Youth Self-report and 1991 profile. Burlington, VT: University of Vermont, Department of Psychiatry.Google Scholar
  2. Aratani, Y., & Cooper, J. L. (2015). The effects of runaway-homeless episodes on high school dropout. Youth & Society, 47, 173–198. doi: 10.1177/0044118X12456406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bearman, P., Jones, J., & Udry, J. (1997). The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health: Research design. Retrieved from
  4. Benoit-Bryan, J. (2011). The runaway youth longitudinal study. Chicago: National Runaway Switchboard.Google Scholar
  5. Chen, X., Thrane, L., & Adams, M. (2012). Precursors of running away during adolescence: Do peers matter? Journal of Research on Adolescence, 22, 487–497. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-7795.2012.00789.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chen, X., Thrane, L., Whitbeck, L. B., Johnson, K. D., & Hoyt, D. R. (2007). Onset of conduct disorder, use of delinquent subsistence strategies, and street victimization among homeless and runaway adolescents in the Midwest. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 22, 1156–1183. doi: 10.1177/0886260507303731.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  7. Chen, X., Tyler, K. A., Whitbeck, L. B., & Hoyt, D. R. (2004). Early sexual abuse, street adversity, and drug use among female homeless and runaway adolescents in the Midwest. Journal of Drug Issues, 34, 1–21. doi: 10.1177/002204260403400101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Courvoisier, D. S., Combescure, C., Agoritsas, T., Gayet-Ageron, A., & Perneger, T. V. (2011). Performance of logistic regression modeling: Beyond the number of events per variable, the role of data structure. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 64, 993–1000. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2010.11.012.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Crawford, D. M., Whitbeck, L. B., & Hoyt, D. (2009). Propensity for violence among homeless and runaway adolescents. Crime & Delinquency, 57, 950–968. doi: 10.1177/0011128709335100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. de Man, A. F. (2000). Predictors of adolescent running away behavior. Social Behavior and Personality, 28, 261–268. doi: 10.2224/sbp.2000.28.3.261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. de Man, A., Dolan, D., Pelletier, R., & Reid, C. (1993). Adolescent runaways: Familial and personal correlates. Social Behavior and Personality, 21, 163–169. doi: 10.2224/sbp.1993.21.2.163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dennis, M. L., Titus, J. C., White, M. K., Unsicker, J. I., & Hodgkins, D. (2003). Global appraisal of individual needs (GAIN): Trainer’s training manual and resources. Bloomington, IL: Chestnut Health Systems.Google Scholar
  13. Hammar, H., Finkelhor, D., & Sedlak, A. J. (2002). Runaway/thrownaway children: National estimates and characteristics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice.Google Scholar
  14. Harris, K. M., Halpern, C. T., Whitsel, J., Hussey, J., Tabor, J., Entzel, P., & Udry, J. R. (2009). The National Study of Adolescent to Adult Health: Research design [Web document]. Retrieved from
  15. Haynie, D. L., Petts, R. J., Maimon, D., & Piquero, A. R. (2009). Exposure to violence in adolescence and precocious role exits. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 269–286. doi: 10.1007/s10964-008-9343-2.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Henggeler, S. W., Schoenwald, S. K., Borduin, C. M., Rowland, M. D., & Cunningham, P. B. (2009). Multisystemic therapy for antisocial behavior in children and adolescents (2nd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  17. Johnson, K. D., Whitbeck, L. B., & Hoyt, D. R. (2005). Substance abuse disorders among homeless and runaway adolescents. Journal of Drug Issues, 35, 799–816. doi: 10.1177/002204260503500407.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  18. Kim, J. E., Hetherington, E. M., & Reiss, D. (1999). Associations among family relationships, antisocial peers, and adolescents’ externalizing behaviors: Gender and family type differences. Child Development, 70, 1209–1230.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Kim, M. J., Tajima, E. A., Herrenkohl, T. I., & Huang, B. (2009). Early child maltreatment, runaway youths, and risk of delinquency and victimization in adolescence: A meditational model. Social Work Research, 33, 19–28. doi: 10.1093/swr/33.1.19.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  20. Kumpfer, K. L., Whiteside, H. O., Greene, J. A., & Allen, K. C. (2010). Effectiveness outcomes of four age versions of the strengthening families program in statewide field sites. Group Dynamics, 14, 211–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Martinez, R. J. (2006). Understanding runaway teens. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 19, 77–88. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6171.2006.00049.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. McCubbin, H., & Thompson, A. (1987). Family assessment inventories for research and practice. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.Google Scholar
  23. McGarvey, E. L., Keller, A., Brown, G. L., DeLonga, K., Miller, A. G., Runge, J. S., & Koopman, C. (2010). Parental bonding styles in relation to adolescent males’ runaway behavior. The Family Journal, 18, 18–23. doi: 10.1177/1066480709356545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Meltzer, H., Ford, T., Bebbington, P., & Vostanis, P. (2012). Children who run away from home: Risks for suicidal behavior and substance misuse. Journal of Adolescent Health, 51, 415–421. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.04.002.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Metzler, C. W., Biglan, A., Ary, D. V., & Li, F. Z. (1998). The stability and validity of early adolescents’ reports of parenting constructs. Journal of Family Psychology, 12, 600–619. doi: 10.1037//0893-3200.12.4.600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Moos, R., & Moos, B. (1994). Family environment scale manual: Development, applications, research (3rd ed.). Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologist Press.Google Scholar
  27. Moskowitz, A., Stein, J. A., & Lightfoot, M. (2013). The mediating roles of stress and maladaptive behavior on self-harm and suicide attempts among runaway and homeless youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42, 1015–1027. doi: 10.1007/s10964-012-9793-4.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Rotheram-Borus, M. (1993). Suicidal behavior and risk factors among runaway youths. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 103–107.Google Scholar
  29. Safyer, A. W., Thompson, S. J., Maccio, E. M., Zittel-Palamara, K., & Forehand, G. (2004). Adolescents’ and parents’ perceptions of runaway behavior: Problems and solutions. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 21, 495–512. doi: 10.1023/b:casw.0000043361.35679.73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Sanchez, R. P., Waller, M. W., & Greene, J. M. (2006). Who runs? A demographic profile of runaway youth in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health, 39, 778–781. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.04.018.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Simpson, D. D., & Mcbride, A. A. (1992). Family, friends, and self (FFS) assessment scales for Mexican-American youth. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 14, 327–340. doi: 10.1177/07399863920143003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Slesnick, N., & Prestopnik, J. L. (2004). Perceptions of the family environment and youth behaviors: Alcohol-abusing runaway adolescents and their primary caretakers. The Family Journal, 12, 243–253. doi: 10.1177/1066480704264505.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  33. Stein, J. A., Milburn, N. G., Zane, J. I., & Rotheram-Borus, M. J. (2009). Paternal and maternal influences on problem behaviors among homeless and runaway youth. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 79, 39–50. doi: 10.1037/a0015411.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. TCU Institute of Behavioral Research (2010). TCU Adol FFSFORM. Retrieved from
  35. Terrell, N. E. (1997). Street life: Aggravated and sexual assaults among homeless and runaway adolescents. Youth & Society, 28, 267–290. doi: 10.1177/0044118x97028003001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Thompson, S. J., Cochran, G., & Barczyk, A. N. (2012). Family functioning and mental health in runaway youth: Association with posttraumatic stress symptoms. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25, 598–601. doi: 10.1002/jts.21744.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Thompson, S. J., Maccio, E. M., Desselle, S. K., & Zittel-Palamara, K. (2007). Predictors of posttraumatic stress symptoms among runaway youth utilizing two service sectors. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 20, 553–563. doi: 10.1002/jts.20229.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  38. Thompson, S. J., Maguin, E., & Pollio, D. E. (2003). National and regional differences among runaway youth using federally-funded crisis services. Journal of Social Service Research, 30, 1–17. doi: 10.1300/J079v30n01_01.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Thompson, S. J., & Pillai, V. K. (2006). Determinants of runaway episodes among adolescents using crisis shelter services. International Journal of Social Welfare, 15, 142–149. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2397.2006.00370.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Thompson, S. J., & Pollio, D. E. (2006). Adolescent runaway episodes: Application of an estrangement model of recidivism. Social Work Research, 30, 245–251. doi: 10.1093/swr/30.4.245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Thompson, S. J., Zittel-Palamara, K. M., & Maccio, E. M. (2004). Runaway youth utilizing crisis shelter services: Predictors of presenting problems. Child & Youth Care Forum, 33, 387–404. doi: 10.1007/s10566-004-5263-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Tucker, J. S., Edelen, M. O., Ellickson, P. L., & Klein, D. J. (2011). Running away from home: A longitudinal study of adolescent risk factors and young adult outcomes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40, 507–518. doi: 10.1007/s10964-010-9571-0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Tucker, J. S., Edelen, M. O., & Huang, W. (2016). Effectiveness of parent-child mediation in improving family functioning and reducing adolescent problem behavior: Results from a pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. Advance online publication. doi:  10.1007/s10964-015-0412-z.
  44. Tucker, J. S., Martinez, J. F., Ellickson, P. L., & Edelen, M. O. (2008). Temporal associations of cigarette smoking with social influences, academic performance, and delinquency: A four-wave longitudinal study from ages 13 to 23. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22, 1–11. doi: 10.1037/0893-164x.22.1.1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Tyler, K. A., & Bersani, B. E. (2008). A longitudinal study of early adolescent precursors to running away. Journal of Early Adolescence, 28, 230–251. doi: 10.1177/0272431607313592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tyler, K. A., Cauce, A. M., & Whitbeck, L. (2004). Family risk factors and prevalence of dissociative symptoms among homeless and runaway youth. Child Abuse and Neglect, 28, 355–366. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2003.11.019.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., & Ackley, K. A. (1997a). Abusive family backgrounds and later victimization among runaway and homeless adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 7, 375–392. doi: 10.1207/s15327795jra0704_2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., & Ackley, K. A. (1997b). Families of homeless and runaway adolescents: A comparison of parent/caretaker and adolescent perspectives on parenting, family violence, and adolescent conduct. Child Abuse and Neglect, 21, 517–528. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(97)00010-0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Whitbeck, L. B., Hoyt, D. R., Johnson, K., & Chen, X. (2007). Victimization and posttraumatic stress disorder among runaway and homeless adolescents. Violence and Victims, 22, 721–734. doi: 10.1891/088667007782793165.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Windle, M. (1989). Substance use and abuse among adolescent runaways: A 4-year follow-up study. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 18, 331–344. doi: 10.1007/bf02139253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Yoder, K. A., Hoyt, D. R., & Whitbeck, L. B. (1998). Suicidal behavior among homeless and runaway adolescents. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 27, 753–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Yoder, K. A., Whitbeck, L. S., & Hoyt, D. R. (2001). Event history analysis of antecedents to running away from home and being on the street. American Behavioral Scientist, 45, 51–65. doi: 10.1177/00027640121957015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephanie Brooks Holliday
    • 1
  • Maria Orlando Edelen
    • 2
  • Joan S. Tucker
    • 1
  1. 1.RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA
  2. 2.RAND CorporationBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations